More than two in five teenagers say they have been under stress last year, with two thirds of that number being able to identify with symptoms of eating disorders, insomnia and depression, research has found.
According to a study of 1,000 teenagers by the National Citizen Service, 88% said they were under stress in the last year. Reasons ranged from A-levels and university choices to which career path to choose.
Bristol-based Beth Peet, currently in year 13, said: “The last few years have been extremely stressful, particularly when it came to making big life decisions.
“The start of Year 11 was when I really began to feel under pressure about what I was going to do next; even choosing whether to stay on at sixth form and which A-levels I should take caused me to feel extremely anxious, and this only got worse as they year went on.“
More than 80% of teenagers were stressed by the pressure to study and do well at school, followed by making major decisions about their future (35%) and arguing with friends (30%).
Looking for a relationship was attributed to increased stress levels by 20% of youngsters while 15% blamed social media for triggering their stress.
Other less common causes of stress include not wanting to disappoint parents (14%), trying to be popular at school (13%) and avoiding bullying (12%). Notably, 11% of teenagers said they had concerns about money.
In terms of behavioural symptoms, stressful youngsters are easy to spot.
Kerri Veal, A-levels student at Exeter College, said, “I suffered from sleepless nights and stopped doing the things I enjoyed, it began to make me unhappy and my grades suffered as a result too.”
According to statistics, 33% showed signs of anxiety and worrying excessively while 28% said stress made them bite their nails more than usual and 21% would shut themselves off from family or friends.
Disrupted sleeping patterns (20%), feeling ill or unwell (15%), lashing out or falling out with friends and family (16%) and changed eating habits (16%) are also clear signs of stress-related illnesses.
Instead of seeking help from parents and the school, these teenagers coped with stress by turning to social media, for example posting frustrated messages on Facebook whereas many preferred to deal with it in silence.
YoungMinds mental health charity reported a 58% increase of calls to its parents helpline in the past two years, showing more and more youngsters are affected by stress.
Lucie Russell, campaigns director at YoungMinds, commented: "We should not underestimate the huge amount of pressure young people are facing, especially at this time of year which brings the uncertainties that come with a new academic year.
"Not only has social media added new complexities to their daily lives but looming, uncertain futures just add to this stress.
"As this research from NCS shows, excessive stress and pressure impact negatively on young people's mental health.
"We need to ensure young people are equipped with the skills to deal with these pressures and to navigate positive paths into adulthood."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "The best schools create a happy, safe and supportive environment so that all children can fulfil their potential.
"We are promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools so children can thrive both inside and out the classroom. Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and all schools must have measures in place to tackle it."
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website getconnected.org.uk
- Young Minds offers information to young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pmand 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
- HeadMeds - a straight-talking website on mental health medication